Theatre in review: Hamlet, The Comedy of Errors and Pride and Prejudice
The opening night of Ian McKellen’s ‘age-blind’ Hamlet felt like an ‘act of defiance’, says The Daily Telegraph
Last week was a“catastrophic” one for theatre, with several shows, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new Cinderella musical, falling victim to the “inflexible” rules on Covid isolation, said Ben Lawrence in The Daily Telegraph. So the opening night of Ian McKellen’s “age-blind” Hamlet at Theatre Royal, Windsor, felt like a double “act of defiance” – against the ravages of the pandemic, and the passing of the years.
At 82, McKellen proves “extraordinarily lithe”: as he “ran up the metal steps in Sean Mathias’s quasi-industrial production, the years seemed to fall away”. Yet his aged voice – “rich and oaky, sometimes pedagogic” – works against the age-blind conceit.
I wasn’t troubled by that, said Arifa Akbar in The Guardian. In an often brilliant performance, McKellen gives us “a prince of all – and any – time and age”. But the production overall is “bumpy”. Elsinore lacks specificity and danger, several of the key relationships are flat and unconvincing, and the “final tragedy leaves us unmoved” (until 25 September).
The RSC’s new staging of The Comedy of Errors was about to open (indoors) in March 2020 when the pandemic intervened, said Mark Lawson in The Guardian. Sixteen months on, it is finally being staged, but outdoors – launching a new Stratford season in a pop-up “Garden Theatre”.
This amphitheatre-style space works a treat. And Phillip Breen’s staging is glorious: “exhaustingly funny”, but also touching on “deeper distresses about identity and reality”.
The fast-paced production has “more than a touch of madness, but its energy and inventiveness prove just about irresistible”, agreed Clive Davis in The Times. There’s a “winningly resourceful” cast of fine comic actors; a splendidly over-the-top 1980s “Day-Glo” aesthetic; any number of funny set-pieces and sight gags; and a director determined to wring comedy from “every word and every comma” (until 26 September, then touring).
The actors, who repeatedly break into song, “respond to the outdoor setting with a breezy sense of fun”. There’s a nice double from Perry Moore as both “buttoned-up” Mr Darcy and “preening” Mr Collins, and a “grotesque” Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Howard Chadwick.
But the glue that holds the show together is Suzanne Ahmet’s excellent performance as Elizabeth Bennet. She brings great charm, humour and spirit to the part – and makes us truly believe that Lizzie’s “independence of mind is worth fighting for” (until 30 August).